Category Archives: Uncategorized

March to save Lewisham Hospital!

OK this isn’t a political blog. Well, I suppose it is, because its about cities and peopel living in cities and what could be more political than that? But is not about political arguments. And no-one much reads it anyway unless I send them links to it so they can look at photos.

But like just about everyone else who lives in South East London I want to say: March to save Lewisham Hospital!

Overheard in a railway station

Overheard in a railway station:

“She’s been barred from McDonald’s”

Overheard on a train:

“You can’t say ‘Baa baa blacksheep’ any more, its racist. You have to say ‘baa baa rainbow sheep'”

“You can’t say ‘Baa baa rainbow sheep’! Its homophobic!”

(Teenage boys on their way to a football match – and both meant as a joke)

Heard in a gents toilet at a football stadium:

“Are you waiting for the trap?”

“Yeah, there’s someone in there”

“I’m right behind you. Well, not *that* close behind you.”

“This isn’t the Amex!”

Before Reality Sets In

For no real reason at all, my uneducated guesses at where the entire Football League + Premierhip will be in nine months time. No dount things will look different by tomorrow lunchtime… Don’t say you weren’t warned!


1 Manchester A
2 Manchester B
3 Chelsea
4 Arsenal
5 Tottenham
6 Newcastle
7 Liverpool
8 Sunderland
9 Stoke
10 Aston Villa
11 Everton
12 Fulham
13 QPR
14 Norwich
15 Southampton
16 Reading
17 Swansea
18 West Brom
19 West Ham
20 Wigan


1 Bolton
2 Birmingham
3 Cardiff
4 Brighton
5 Blackpool
6 Middlesbrough
7 Watford
8 Wolves
9 Blackburn
10 Hull
11 Nottm Forest
12 Leicester
13 Leeds United
14 Millwall
15 Ipswich
16 Charlton
17 Huddersfield
18 Burnley
19 Derby
20 Bristol City
21 Crystal Palace
22 Sheffield Weds
23 Barnsley
24 Peterborough

League One

1 Sheff Utd
2 Doncaster
3 Scunthorpe
4 Bournemouth
5 Hartlepool
6 Crawley
7 Carlisle
8 Colchester
9 MK Dons
10 Coventry
11 Preston
12 Stevenage
13 Brentford
14 Swindon
15 Notts County
16 Leyton Orient
17 Crewe
18 Tranmere
19 Portsmouth
20 Oldham
21 Yeovil
22 Shrewsbury
23 Bury
24 Walsall

League Two

1 Bristol Rovers
2 Southend
3 Rotherham
4 Bradford
5 Gillingham
6 Cheltenham
7 Chesterfield
8 Fleetwood
9 Aldershot
10 Wycombe
11 Plymouth
12 Oxford Utd
13 Exeter
14 Port Vale
15 Dag & Red
16 Burton Albion
17 Wimbledon
18 Accrington
19 York
20 Barnet
21 Rochdale
22 Morecambe
23 Torquay
24 Northampton

Nice weather for the time of year. Really.

Nice weather for the time of year. Really.

I got sunburned on Saturday and Sunday. In Shropshire. Supposedly the wettest weekend in modern British history,or something like that, so we went camping on the Welsh border. Maybe some photos later.

But meanwhile back in London its not been that wet. It rarely is. I cycled to work regularly for years and on average got seriously wet maybe twice a year. It really doesn’t rain that much here. Honest. That stuff all happens in the North West. Its not even that foggy since they got rid of coal fires. (Not foggy like Shoreham near Brighton is anyway, the Adur valley must be the fog capital of England)

So I have no idea what was going on at Lewisham Station yesterday. 🙂 These pictures were taken just after mid-day.

lewisham_station_4228 lewisham_station_F4227

Semi-seriously, it was good fun. The wind blew up, the temperature dropped, the rain got heavier and turned to hail, the trains got more and more delayed, and everybody crowded into a small space under the station canopy (at least there still is one, they’ve taken the rooves away in so many of them) Most of the people on the platform looked bored or resigned, as commuters usually do (Yes, even at 12 noon Lewisham station can be packed with commuters – This Is The Age Of The Train, at least in South-East London). A smaller number looked angry or even scared. But a few (we happy few, for I was among them) were grinning like children who’ve found the secret chocolate supply. A storm, a real storm, in summer, and we could be out in it and keep dry! What’s not to like?


As usual select the little pictures to see bigger ones. Some v ery much bigger ones. You can almost see the hailstones.

lewisham+station_4230 lewisham_station_4226

But then on my way back home after midnight it was dry and I could see the breath in front of my face. In July.

Towards a New Railway History of Middle-Earth

It is a thing little remembered – even by the Wise – that Dwarven miners had been laying or carving tracks along the floor of their tunnels to ease the movement of ore trucks and other gear since at least the end of the Second Age. Moria, in its time of glory, was completely spanned by such, and a cable-hauled gravity-assisted rack-and-pinion railway was laid in the to take mithril and gems down to Lorien, and return with such provisions as even Dwarves need.

After the fall of Moria the Orcs of the Misty Mountains copied the Dwarves in this, as in so many other things. Bilbo never knew it, but had he fled from Gollum only a few minutes earlier would have run into a band of Orcs using a pit pony to haul mine waste from the new diggings towards the eastern entrance.

Such labour-saving machines never spread from the free Orcs of the Northern Mountains to their Master in the South, Sauron – despite the slanders of some Elves and Men – was never a lover of mechanism for its own sake. And he had many slaves and did not see why he should ease their burdens by providing wheeled vehicles.His mines and armouries were worked by muscle and the whip.

Saruman however was obsessed with efficiency and progress. In the ruins of Isengard, near the base of Orthanc, the men of Rohan came across a detailed scale model of the Ring of Isengard as it might become after victory, and rails ran everywhere, complete with little working steam engines, stations with tiny model Orcs waiting on the platforms – some with tinier Orc babies, it was never true that Orcs were born from vats though some of the larger ones may have been grown in them – and troop trains full of Uruk-Hai in complex and colourful uniforms correct in every detail, The Horse-Lords could make nothing of this, thinking it some complex charm, and the layout was not understood for what it was till it fell into the hands of one of Peregrine Took’s grandsons almost a century later.

The first public railways of the Fourth Age were due to the ingenuity – and eye for profit – of the Men of Dale. The Dwarves of the Iron Hills were using rails to haul waste our of their mineworkings, as they had done for cenbturies. Bard IV of Esgaroth saw this while on a trade delegation and realised at once that a similar but larger pony-drawn system could be used to take iron or ore or manufactured goods to the Lonely Mountain and the Long Lake much more cheaply than the pack mules and handcarts used in the past. That would now only save money, it would lock the Dwarves into trade through Dale, with everything passing through the Lake and then down the Running River

Very sensibly – the Bardlings were nothing but sensible and cautious in matters of commerce – the Dalemen started with some experimental track along the sides of the river and up to the Mountain. With their experience of boatbuilding and toymaking and their love of ingenious tricks, they soon laid a few miles of wooden track and started running loads up and down. They soon found that they were making almost as much money from children paying pennies for the ride as they were from the few goods passing to and from the Dwarves of the Mountain, and embarked on their great project in the twelfth year of the Fourth Age.

Its hard to say whether the Old Iron Hills Railway was a success or not. The wooden rails, so simple to make and lay in the vicinity of Laketown, were a great burden to keep in repair on so large a scale. Wood had to be cut and shaped up to two years before then seasoned and bent into shape. Stocks of wood had to be kept at stages along the way and men had to be ready to repair any damage within a day. The output of the Dwarf mines was never quite large enough to pay for all this, and the Permanent Way often lay damaged and useless for weeks at a time, especially in winter.

On the other hand, and unlooked-for, the railway led to the growth of a new kingdom in the North. Ever since the death of the Dragon, men had been moving into the empty lands north and east of Mirkwood. Some flying from the horror in the South, others merely looking for wider room for their growing families. After the end of the War of the Ring, when Wilderland knew peace and security for the first time in over three hundred years, thousands of poor and landless flocked up the Running River from Rhovanion, to plant corn and children in the wide plains between the Mountains and the Wood. And as Men do they began to build hamlets and villages and to hold markets and fairs. At first these fairs were by the River, for all trade and travel was by the River. But as soon as the Railway was laid, and the staging posts and wood stores and horse-stables built, strangers began to gather around them. The Men of Dale were like to send them away but Bard, canny for coin, welcomed them in so long as they swore to obey the laws of the land, and offered them the use of the Way to carry their goods and their gear – for a price. Even when the Railway failed these new towns lived on. And so, three dozen years after it was builded, the Old Iron Hills Railway no longer just joined the Dwarves of the Mountain with those of the Hills over a hundred miles of wilderness, it ran through a fertile land of Men, stout farmers, eager and willing to trade their wheat and barley and beer and cider and leather and mutton for the trinkets and toys of the Dalemen and the Dwarves.

The next chapter in the Railway History of Middle-Earth is written far to the West, in the Shire. It is true, that on hearing of the Railway in Dale King Aragorn had a stone track built or carved to connect Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, and Minas Ithil, but it was never much more than a curiosity. However, on one of his many visits to the City in which he had served the Steward so faithfully in the War of the Ring, and about fifty years after the end of that War, Peregrin Took of the Shire happened to meet with Fror, the grandson of that Fror whose brothers Thror and Gror founded the Kingdoms of the Mountain and the Iron Hills, who was in Minas Tirith with some of his folk to restore parts of the Second Level of the City still bearing damage from the siege. There Fror told of the Iron Hills Railway among many other marvels of Dwarf-work at Dale and the Mountain, and the Took formed a desire to see this thing.

He never did of course – he remained in the Shire for the next ten years before returning to Gondor in retirement – but his son Faramir, Thain after him, and more especially *his* son Samwise II – later Thain and Shire-Reeve, but at this time still a boy with a boy’s enthusiasms – took up the idea, and made a garden railway on their own land between the Great Smials and Tuckborough. But this railway was made with iron rails – somehow Faramir had had carried to the Shire much of the metal left over from the ruin of Isengard, and some of the forges set up by Saruman in his brief period of rule were still in operation remaking it into whatever the Hobbits needed. And for three years not a birthday or a festival went by without the children of Tuckborough being treated to a ride up and down the garden and round the corner to the pond, drawn on iron rails by small, friendly, ponies.

However conservative they may be in other ways Hobbits are never slow to take up new ideas that both save work and please children, and this garden railway was all the rage. Three or four smaller ones were set up around the Shire in the next couple of years, but no truly working railway was built until the South Farthing Iron Road of FA54 which connected the farms and market at Longbottom with the Shirebourn so that produce could be exported down the Brandywine,

Then came one of those coincidences which make one wonder if history is indeed made by men and elves, or if there is some over-riding Story or Plot behind it all. Ever since the fall of old Cardolan, the lands immediately to the south and east of the Shire had been inhabited by a mixed bag of Men, Hobbits, and Orcs, living from hand to mouth in small isolated communities and in fear of each other as well as both the Orcs of the Mountains and the Elves of Rivendell. Its only surviving settlements of any size were Buckland, which was effectively an addition to the Shire, the villages of the Breeland, and the small hamlet at Sarn Ford. As is well known the land of Cardolan fell under the fear and spell of Saruman during the War of the Ring, and its greenways and rivers were used by him to trade secretly with the Shire and the Dwarves. At the end of that War Saruman’s rabble briefly tried to take over the Shire, but were expelled by the Ringbearer and his companions. Expelled, but not destroyed. They were forced to take to the hills. But now there was a King in Gondor, and trade and fair folk passed up and down the Greenway and the Brandywine. So the rabble and the heathmen followed the trades they had learned from Saruman, as carters and cobblers and bargees and ferrymen, and it was into their hands that that the Hobbits of the South Farthing placed their pipeweed and their broadcloth and their other produce, and from their hands that they received in return gold and goods in great store fromn the South.

And it was one of them who came to the Thain one night with a proposal for a new kind of railway. An ugly man, past the best of his youth, almost toothless with long arms and calloused hands, he had the look of a half-orc. It is said he was named Bill Ferny but we need pay no heed to such stories – all the heath-men and river-wanderers were called “Bill Ferny” in those days, for “Ferny” means nothing more than a man of the fens or the moors, and “Bill” is what the Hobbits would call any stranger without a name. This Bill Ferny’s father had been in Isengard in the War, and had – he said – there learned the secret of cunning engines which could drive a hammer or a wheel without need for horse or man to turn and pull. All that was needed was wood and water – or the black rock that burns that the Dwarves mine in the Ered Luin – and with such engines a new kind of railway could be built. But (there is always a but) the only folk who knew how to make such things were some of those who had been in Isengard before the war. And they were such as were not popular in the Shire, and avoided sunlight.

The deal was done. Peregrin Took was safely in Gondor, and in FA 56 Bill Ferny – or whatever his name was – and some rather strange friends of his moved into Tookbank and, working mostly at night or underground, constructed the first steam locomotives ever seen in Middle Earth. At the same time the Hobbits of the West Farthing extended the old garden railway from Tuckborough to Michel Delving. In September FA 61 – by coincidence the 80th anniversary of Bilbo’s eleventyfirst birthday – the Tuckborough and Michel Delving Railway had its Grand Opening. Everyone was there for miles around. Stout old Hobbits and little Hobbit children queued up for hours to take the five mile ride. And so the railway madness began.

Within another three years the Hobbiton, Bywater and Frogmorton was running east-west alonmg the Old East Road. Desperate to beat them to make a connection with Buckland the Tooks allied themselves with Hobbits of the Marish to lay the Green Hills Railway east towards Stock, just as the South Farthing Iron Road converted to steam and laid a new branch at great expense across the marshes to Deephallow. Not wishing to be left out, other Hobbits laid the Greenfields, Scarry, and Bridgeford in the North Farthing – with a branch to Long Cleeve, and the Sackville-Bagginses amoing others made a north-south line connecting Sackville with Michel Delving and Little Delving then curling east to Nobottle. Another, shorter, line the most profitable of all, the Hobbiton and Central Shire funded by the Proudfoots and Hardbottles, joined Bywater to the Tooklands.

This had a deep effect on the society and economy of the Shire and beyond. The new railways soon outgrew the iron scavenged from Isengard and were in the market for new Dwarf-forged metal. Some came from Ered Luin, and before long iron to make tracks and coal to fire engines was itself being brought in by rail – by the end of 64 the Hobbiton, Bywater and Frogmorton had extended west to Michel Delving from where, despite fiece competition within the Shire, the two co-operated on the Grand United Western Railroad across the Far Downs and Tower Hills to the Havens. The move west was also under the protection and direction of Elanor Gamgee Fairbairn, whose late husband Fastred had been appointed Warden of Westmarch by King Elassar in FA 41, and so became the first official of the Kingdom of Arnor to rule over any of the coastlands for over a thousand years, and who was still trying to establish her authority.

But the requirement for iron and steel seemed never-ending. Single-track railways were upgraded to two or four tracks, narrower tracks to Great Smials Standard Gauge (based on Peregrin Took’s greatest rumoured height, said soon after to have been four-foot eight-inches, though there is no record from his lifetime of either him or Meriadoc Brandybuck exceeding four-foot-six), ever-smaller settlements were connected to the system, so more steel had to come from the Iron Hills. This was taken by horse-drawn rail to the Long Lake then *up* the Forest River almost to Mount Gundabad, then, at first, down the Anduin all the way to the sea and by coastal ship to the Brandywine and up-river by barge to be unloaded at the rapidly-growing docks at Bucklebury. Other ships went all the way to the Havens of Lindon to meet the railway there. The Iron Hills Railroad was itself upgraded to use iron rails and steam haulage – with locomotive parts brought back from the Shire by sea and river. But as dwarves re-established themselves in the most ancient of all their delvings at Gundabad, increasingly the metal was transported overland to the Shire across an ever-decreasing gap as the North Downs Railway was built west and south of Gundabad towards Fornost, and the Buckland and King’s Norbury which was at forst built eastwards to meet it from the great bend of the Brandywine as it comes out of Lake Evendim, but then joined to the eastern bounds of the Shire. The old town of Fornost, re-founded by Aragorn Elessar in the early years of the Fourth Age as a garrison to protect the Shire and eastern Cardolan from the many wild things that still sulked around or beyond Carn Dum, once again prospered.

But these were small things compared with the changes in the life and ways of the Shire itself. Hobbits are hardy folk, but neither size nor temperament suits them to the life of an Inland Navigator. From the begining they employed others to dig cuttings, bank earth, and lay track. And those others lived in and around the Shire in their own camps and townships, with wages to spend and bellies to fill. So there was a second incoming of Big Men to the Shire – though mostly women this time – catering to the wants of the navvies, whether human or half-Orc. It would be an exaggeration to say that the streets of Michel Delving or Buckleberry were no longer safe for a hobbit-lass to walk on a Friday night, but things were certainly lively, and noisier, than they had been. This was all in spite of the Royal Edict of FA 6 expressly forbidding Big Men to enter the Shire.

Also, although – like the men of Dale – Hobbits were keen-eyed, nimble-fingered, and well-learned in machineries such as millcraft and clockwork, they had none among them skilled in forging large iron structures, nor the boilers and other pressure vessels needed for steam engines. The masters of that craft were found only among the scatterlings of Isengard, where they had learned from Saruman himself. And many, maybe most of them, were Orcs. And so, for the first time anywhere in Middle Earth, small numbers of Orcish folk lived among Men (for the Hobbits in truth were naught but the smallest kind of Men) not as slaves or warriors or prisoners but as workers, and well-paid well-skilled workers at that.

There were few direct intimate liaisons between Uruk-Hai and Hobbits (if only for obvious reasons of scale) but that did nothing to stop a rather unpleasant campaign of printed posters saying “Would you want one to marry your sister?”. There were, however, a large contingent of half-orcs and orc-like Men and, as said above, large numbers of women of various sorts providing for them. So slowly, over a few generations, fpor the first time in Middle-Earth, Big Men and Halflings and Orcs merged into one mixed people, brought together by the Railway. And by the middle of the Fourth Age the Shire Folk, no longer as small and slight as their forefathers before the War of the Ring, had come to rule over much of Eriador and Arnor and the coastlands. Many of the Wise think this to be the origins of our modern European populations – our long arms and stout legs compared with other humans, our pale, clammy, skin, or vestigal brow-ridges – these were not the features of the ancient Men of Numenor.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. None of this was in sight in FA 70 when, in the year of Peregrin Took’s death, Matt Brockhouse and Ham Clayhanger, signalmen of the Overhill, Brockhouse and Bree Railway (despite the name the extension to Bree was still a distant dream – no road has ever been cut through the Old Forest for some reason, and Bree was not connected until the line coming north out of Sarn Ford paralell to the Great North Road was completed in 92, the first major section of what was to become the Gondor and Arnor Railway, the greatest engineering feat of the Age) began their experiments with block signalling in response to the Stockbridge Disaster of the year before…

First Impressions of Milton Keynes (2), Cranfield

And after Milton Keynes, to Cranfield University for our meeting. Cranfield shows it history in its architecture, which is quite unlike any other university I’ve seen (though bits of Loughborough are remniscent) Its a 20th-century RAF base slowly morphed into a 21st-century university.

cranfield_3454 cranfield_3457

The building we had our meeting in looked like a typical bit of 1960s or so public-service surburban architecture. Vaguely reminiscent of some of the newer and tackier bits of the Inland Revenue site at Durrington when I worked there in the 1980s, or of the now-demolished Bungalow Building at Lewisham Bridge School. Thin partition walls, slightly corroded casement windows, an oddly inaccessible internal courtyard or lightwell or atrium (that word sounds far too grand) with pieces of disused aircon equipment lying around on a floor made of pebbles.


Slightly older buildings looked something like my own old primary school on a larger scale. 1950s red-brick-repectable council-estate suburban, fitting in well with older areas laid put round a fake village green with a sturdy little bus-shelter that looked like the better sort of Army married quarters. Maybe that’s exactly what they used to be.

cranfield_3448 cranfield_3446
cranfield_3443 cranfield_3444
cranfield_3445 cranfield_3452

But on top of that there is 1980s corporate business-park building that could be in one of those vast and unfocussed shedlands near Heathrow, and shiny 21st century stuff.


First Impressions of Milton Keynes (1)

I’ve never really been to Milton Keynes before. Well, I suppose I haven’t really been there now, but I got off the train and caught a bus to go to a meeting at Cranfield University and spent at least two hours being driven around the vicinity so I am obviously a huge expert on the place, seeing as how important first impressions are 🙂

milton_keynes_3430 milton_keynes_3432

And the first impression is that Milton Keynes inverts, turns inside out, the “natural” pattern of a city that has grown piecemeal over time and governed by market forces. A gradual-growth unplanned city, like London – well, no-where is quite like London but you could compare about half of the older cities in England tends to organise itself around pre-existing roads going from place to place, node to node. If unconstrained by local government these tend to form mostly radial commercial strips, such as the long rambling linked shopping streets of inner suburban London, with lots of little gridplan residential areas gradually filling in behind them, often following the existing private land ownership. You can see that in Sheffield or Shepherd’s Bush, Brighton or Brockley. LA has much the same layout on a larger scale, as does Houston. A patchwork of gridplans hanging off roads that connect places together.

But it also – and I really hadn’t realised this till I saw it – doesn’t closely resemble typical planned cities either, whether the old late 19th-century gridplans of so many US cities, or the swirly-suburban Radburnised, Swedified layouts of the typical British “New Towns” like Crawley or East Kilbride (I strongly suspect that it is impossible to truly learn to navigate the streets of East Kilbride on foot unless you were exposed to the place before puberty – you have to have it ingrained in your brain)

milton_keynes_3433 milton_keynes_3435

Milton Keynes has an outer gridplan, a large-scale (about 1km a side) checkerboard of horizontal and vertical “avenues” that deliberately avoid going to most of the places you might want to go. These aren’t – or weren’t in their original conception there seems to have been some withdrawal from the strict plan since and some shiny new shops and offices opening directly on to them – these aren’t big shopping avenues or boulevards such as we think we know in Paris, they are more like internal bypasses, a complete network of roads that narrowly miss going anywhere interesting. So when you drive round the city you spend most of your time on dual carriageways with odd glimpses of buildings in the gaps between the almost-but-not-quite grown trees lining both sides of the road – and they are often not just single rows of street trees, they are deep plantings of parkland trees.

Its like a chessboard the lines between the squares represented by motor roads, and a roundabout at each place where the corners of squares meet. The actual places are in the centres of the squares, a different suburb or neighbourhood in each, and each one at least in potential distinct and different from all the others. Not that you can tell, because you can’t see them. Commercial centres, new residential neighbourhoods, parks, older villages or towns, are all separate from each other and from the roads. The apotheosis of the “access without propinquity” fantasies of the 1940s to 1970s. Houses next to houses, shops to shops, offices to offices, everything ten minutes drive from a main road. No-one need meet anyone or anything they didn’t plan to other than cars. Lots of tasteful shopping and green living in carefully segregated spaces. Victor Gruen come back to Europe and pupped.

milton_keynes_3442 milton_keynes_3439

Can you see it?

Its amazing what you don’t see.

OK, it is hard to see what is really there in this light:


But I must have passed this spot hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. On my bike, on foot, on the bus. I have taken photos near the spot. I have walked or cycled down each one of the three streets that join there. But I never saw it until after I had read that it was there on someone’s blog. And then it was obvious. You can’t miss it. Huge and shiny and in full sight no more than twenty metres from one of the busiest roads in London. Except I did miss it. Its been there for OVER TEN YEARS and I never even noticed it. Or if I did I’ve completely forgotten about it.


So can you see the tank?


Its in there….


There it is!


A genuine Russian T34 tank, slightly foxed:


And while I was there taking the photos someone came up to me and asked, in a strong Eastern European accent “Do you come from round here?” I said I lived not far away, and then he asked “Are you Russian?” I told him I wasn’t and he told me that Russians come to look at it. And then he said that he used to drive one like it. I asked him if he was Russian, and he said no, Polish, but when he did his military service he learned to drive a T34. I said he looked a bit young to have used one – he doesn’t look as if he is fifty years old – but he said that conscripts got to practice on them. The Russians and the professional soldiers used T72s. Apparently the conscripts weren’t allowed near them. Not even to touch the outside of them, security guards at all times.

Which is kind of an interesting thing to happen on a Sunday afternoon after church. So I thought I would blog about it.

I wonder whose house the gun is pointing at?

Since I wrote that I’ve looked at the pictures again and realised how well camouflaged it is. Its right next to a white gate with a car behind it, and the gate and car are much smaller than the tank, but much easier to see. All that shiny graffiti is actually good camouflage for this urban environment – which is basically the end of a traditional street, and right next to some post-industrial desolation now mostly morphed into a mixture of inappropriately suburban-style strip-mall shopping and wannabe posh flats cut off from the world by 3-metre-high brick walls that keep out the neighbours and let in the burglars.

When our TVs were full of pictures of British soldiers shooting or getting shot at in Northern Ireland we were used to seeing squaddies in full combat dress with fake leaves in their helmets squatting down behind some tiny privet hedge in a street that could easily have been one of the dingier districts of Croydon. The clothes seemed strange. In that environment the green and brown and khaki DPM must have stood out a mile. It shouts “I am a soldier” at anyone watching, just as much as a red jacket with piping and epaulettes used to. Maybe that’s why they did it that way. In Belfast in the 1980s I saw a policeman (I think, it was hard to tell) sitting in the turret of an armoured car with a big machine-gun at the entrance to a shopping street, wearing a black flak-jacket, and a shiny black helmet with visor down so you couldn’t see his face. More Darth Vader than Dixon of Dock Green. Maybe the army weren’t trying to hide or blend in but they were using their clothes to show who they were, to intimidate rather than blend in. Camouflage repurposed as livery. The old red coats turned green.

Perhaps there were other soldiers hanging about in T-shirts, jeans, and trainers – genuine urban camouflage. Come to think of it there almost certainly were.

pages_walk_3384 pages_walk_3383
pages_walk_3390 pages_walk_3391 pages_walk_3387
pages_walk_3386 pages_walk_3389

Does every city have to have a Ferris wheel?

Just managed to upload some photos from the brief circumnavigation of Britain a couple of weeks ago. (A picture may be worth a thousand words, but its easier to write a thousand words than it is to make a good picture. Doubly so online) Maybe I’ll post the half-written items about Edinburgh and Glasgow soon… but in the meantime, does every city have to have a Ferris wheel?

Glasgow’s is shiny:


York’s is retro:


And here is one I prepared earlier:


Someone who thinks that hats and handbags are alternatives to each other lives in a completely different universe of discourse to me.

A genuine stereotype observed in its natural wild habitat! Teenage obsession with trainers! OK, its a but last-century, and it was never as extreme as the The-Youth-Of-Today whingers made out but it not only did exist it still does. At least in Deptford.

Yesterday, on top of the 47 bus making my way in the general direction of the Den (don’t talk about the match. We was robbed). There was a group of girls sitting behind me chatting loudly. Very loudly. All black, most mid-teens I guessed, maybe 14 or 15 – from what they said at least some of them were deciding whether to stay at school into the sixth form or else go to a college so they are certainly about that age.

Another young woman got up to go downstairs and get off the bus. As she got to thte top of the stairs the girls still behind me started giggling and shushing each other and stage-whispering: “Be quiet! Don’t say it yet! She’ll hear!” When she had got downstairs they started laughing and joking about what she had been wearing. “It looks like its going to burst!” I assumed this referred to the rather tight white trousers she had stretched around her somewhat large rear end. Though I couldn’t help thinking cynically that the general effect was somewhat pleasing from a bloke’s point of view, and that at least one of the girls doing the talking was quite a bit plumper all over.

And then they moved on to footwear. Apparently the trainers she was wearing were hilarious. How can she bear to go out in them? Can’t she save up and buy a proper pair? I couldn’t quite hear all the conversation – the stage whisper had subsided into ordinary quiet talk and buses are noisy places so I wasn’t sure whether the problem pair of shoes were Reeboks or they were suggesting Reeboks as a cheap but acceptable alternative. I know there are symbolic codes and agreed protocols to assign meaning to these things but, being a Bloke, I don’t know what they are and even if I learned they would be changed soon after, partly because people like me knew them. So I have no idea what Reeboks signify to these young women.

Then they moved on to classmates not present, demolishing their pathetic choice of trainers one by one. The worst of the losers seems to be a young boy whos Dad bought him a pair of Dunlops. And he wore them! “That’s so African!” Apparently, no Jamaican Dad would let his children be seen out wearing no-brand shoes like that! They would insist on proper brands. Like… well, like I can’t remember because the two or three examples were completely unknown to me and by the time I’d been to the match (don’t mention the match. I blame the ref. And that idiot lino) I’d forgotten their names if I’d ever heard them clerly in the first place.

But I’m not meant to remember the names of shoes. They are numbered amongst those Things that Man is Not Meant to Know. The rules of fashion are impenetrable to blokes. Deliberately so, because they are partly about demonstrating publically that you are not like people like me, so if people like me started dressing a certain way the fashion-struck would stop doing it.

Its not only women on buses. Last week, on a train to Waterloo, I overheard two young women talking about what they had been buying recently, and what they intended to buy in whatever shops it was that they were going to visit that day. One asked the other if she was going to buy a handbag. Oh no, she said, no handbags, none of the current styles suited her, so she never went out with a handbag any more, and for the last month or so she had been wearing hats instead, so she intended to buy another hat.

Someone who thinks that hats and handbags are alternatives to each other lives in a completely different universe of discourse to me.


The programme info for BBC Match of the Day on Virgin cable really does say “A***nal”. A joke? Please tell me its a joke!

The Flowers of Advent Sunday

Its a funny sort of autumn this year. More like a damp summer. I suppose it goes with our funny sort of recession that seems to involve vast amounts of construction everywhere I go, and record corporate profits.

I didn’t take my camera to church this morning. Which is a pity, as it was a glorious sunny day, and after the service as I walked up towards New Cross through what this website tells us should be called Deptford New Town there were loads of things I wanted to take pictures of.

So you will just have to put up with what I could do with my phone. As usual the pictures link to larger versions on Flickr, and to others of similar things.

The first thing that caught my eye was a heavily amputated horse chestnut that had just come back into leaf, In the last week of November. It doesn’t show too well in the pictures but these leaves are soft pale green and brand new.


Ashmead Road

Also the Deptford Railway Meadow is looking good. Well, it is if you are a botanist with an aversion to neatly mowed lawns, like I am. And there are even a few flowers in bloom there – mostly the sort of yellow composites that you need a hand lens to identify so I can’t really say what they are from over the fence.

Deptford Meadow

Looking across Deptford Meadow to St John's Church

In fact the most striking thing after that was the number of flowers around. A beautiful day.

Flowers on Advent Sunday November flowerpots Flowers on Advent Sunday
Flowers on Advent Sunday Flowers on Advent Sunday Flowers on Advent Sunday
IMG_0287 IMG_0303 IMG_0304

A beautiful day.


And the best-named park in London!

Friendly Gardens

More like Queen’s Park than Queens

So I’m in the pub and talking to V our resident Texan about accents. And this black bloke from Deptford that I don’t know says he is originally from Queens, New York. But his accent is totally local, so I say he sounds more like Queen’s Park than Queens, A lucky phrase – it turns out that he was in fact brought up in Brighton and lived near Queen’s Park. His parents moved there from America when he was a kid and he lived just off Southover Street for years. Supported the Albion, He’s a couple of years older than me so we were both in Brighton in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. We remember some of the same places and pubs. I probably put leaflets through their door in election campaigns.


But proud to be a Brightonian! (A word we both knew but the Londoners around us didn’t recognise – neither does this spell-checker)

“London was having a conversation with himself”

Said today in church, by the father of a baby who was about to be baptised. He stood up and talked about some the disruptions and difficulties his family were experiencing earlier this year – a flood forcing them out of their house for a while, having to travel abroad for work leaving wife and older kid to fend for themselves in temporary accomodation – and then said that the baby was born in that week when “London was having a conversation with himself”.

Its not the way a first-language English speaker would have put it but we all knew exactly what he meant. (I’m not sure what his first language is but I guess it might be Akan/Ashante as one of the boy’s names is Kofi) But its a striking phrase.

Meanwhile, from the other end of the way we speak now, Lucinda Lambton has just been on the radio. Despite originally being from Tyneside she has a very much RP accent, and I noticed that she said the word “violet” as I would expect most eastern or south-eastern or RP English speakers to say “varlet”. Those words are not homophones for me but I bet they are for her.

Sometimes pubs just work (4)

Saturday being the day of rest, I rested. And with nothing to do I rested till about 6pm. I’d hardly got out of bed. Then did restful web-browsing for a couple of hours and listened to Radio Three’s Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande (sorry, it is a bit twee and dull – what did Maeterlinck think he was doing? The plot as depressing as anything in Wagner or Puccini but the music much less thrilling, al a bit precious and wasted) and had a nice hot bath. And because I hadn’t talked to anyone all day, went to the pub just before closing time.

Sometimes pubs just work. Did I say that already? Not many people in there and G the DJ doing failed Karaoke to about ten customers who weren’t interested. But D & N – father and son – had won 900 quid on the horses (so I got bought a pint!) and heard all about how the son (who I have sort of known since he was at primary school) had broken up with his girlfriend and is crashing on his dad’s floor. And there was a lost couple from Essex who weren’t sure of the way home. And two blokes from Edinburgh who looked about the same age to me but one was the other’s father-in-law. OK, Leith – but I was the only other one who knew the words to “Sunshine on Leith”. And the Essex couple turned out to have been married and divorced and got together again. And their 18-year-old daughter has gone off somewhere so they are taking the opportuinity to do a sort of pub crawl and have no idea how they will get home to the Outer Darkness Beyond Romford, They just walked into the pub for a quick one on the way home and are still here three hours later, And the barmaid showed us pictures of her little daughter on her phone and other people shared their photos and there were silly arguments about being Scottish or English and the DJ played some soppy music and people danced – I mean like ballroom dancing. P & A who have been married for years danced to “Brealing up is hard to so” and we all clapped and cheered and someone danced with Dave and the odd Jewish used car dealers danced and when it was mostly all over at about midnight another dozen neighbours turned up, a family party, and they danced and it was soppy. Weird, and soppy.

And I left at about 2am. Without my hat. I guess I need to go back tomorrow to see if someone found it. They are still there playing pool and I have no idea how the no longer divorced couple are going to get back to Essex at this time of night and I guess they don’t either.

Maybe Debussy and Maeterlinck would have done better if they had had a few more beers and games of pool.

Sometimes pubs just work.

Butterflies in October!

And I forgot to put the book I am reading in my bag when I rushed out ten or fifteen minutes late to get a train to Croydon. Would have been a disaster before the days of mobile phones. Even if its only a 20 minute journey. So maybe a running commentary.

Its hot. I guess about 26 or 27 because I can think straight – I start to lose my marbles when it goes pver around 28.

The trees are mostly still in green leaf. Especially sycamores which are the common trackside feral round here. Poplars too. Some of the ashes are looking a bit sparse and the few oaks seem quite bronzed. Ditto horse chestnuts. Not that I’m exactly doing a statistical survey. Look out of the window for a few seconds than back to tapping out on my phone.

Hey! Its only 1546 and I am at Norwood Junction!. Mayve I will make it to church on time!